DESTINATION GUIDE

Pai: a complete guide

Sander & MariskaPai is a mountain village in the north of Thailand. That may not sound spectacular, but Pai is truly unique. It’s the kind of destination where you unexpectedly stick around for a week, even though in your itinerary you only planned to stay there for two nights.

In the Pai valley, you won’t just find traditional country life with a lot of farmland and rice fields, but also a mix of hippies and hipsters enjoying what they’ve declared their number one hotspot in Southeast Asia. Unsurprisingly, life in Pai is pleasantly relaxed and super cheap. An absolute MUST for anyone visiting Thailand!
– Sander & Mariska

Sights in Pai

Pai has zero sights. But that doesn’t mean it’s boring! It’s a great place to rent a motorbike to explore its unique caves, whirling waterfalls and hot springs, riding on slippery and muddy mountain trails. Or enjoy the nightlife and have a great time on Walking Street, with its many small bars with live music, as well as massive parties that go on until the early hours of the morning.

1. Walking Street

Pai Walking Street

Evening market in the center of Pai, featuring tasty – and cheap – street food and little stalls exhibiting ornaments and paintings made by artists.

Exploring Pai Canyon

A magnificent canyon, deeply carved under the influence of the natural process of erosion. Wander along the steep cliffs at sunset and enjoy the view of the hills surrounding them.

3. Memorial Bridge

Ta-Pai Bridge in Pai

This iron bridge was built in 1942 by the Japanese with the aim of transporting goods and weapons to Myanmar (Burma) during World War II.

4. Wat Phra That Mae Yen

Mae Yen Temple in Pai

Large, white Buddha statue that looks out over Pai; the temple itself is rather plain, but the view is magnificent.

5. Santichon Chinese Village

Yun Lai Viewpoint in Pai

A small Chinatown scattered with Chinese temples, some shops and an excellent viewpoint (Yun Lai Viewpoint) where you can have a cup of oolong tea.

Sai Ngam Hot Spring in Pai

Small hot spring that’s located on the way to Tham Lod Cave. This jungle Jacuzzi’s water is blissfully warm and crystal clear.

Pai Hotsprings Spa Resort in Pai

Even if you’re not a guest in this resort, it’s possible to pay to make use of their mineral baths and thermal springs.

No boiling eggs here - Ta Pai Hot Spring in Pai

Pai’s most popular hot springs are located in a peaceful area. There’s something truly magical about this place, especially in the early morning.

Tham Lod Cave

Breathtakingly beautiful cave consisting of three parts. Marvel at the rock formations, stalactites, stalagmites, pillars and the underground river that goes on for several kilometers.

Mo Paeng Waterfall in Pai

Sizeable three-tier waterfall located 9 kilometers from Pai. During the rainy season (July to October) it’s possible to slide down it.

Pambok Waterfall in Pai

This waterfall is easily accessible from the town center and situated in a ravine. Jump off the rocks for a refreshing dip!

Mae Yen Waterfall in Pai

To reach this waterfall, you’ll need to hike through the jungle for three hours on a poorly marked trail. Challenging, but pretty awesome!

Hua Chang Waterfall in Pai

It will take an hour’s hike through the jungle to reach this lesser known waterfall. During the rainy season (July to October), the trail is hardly passable.

On the road to Lod Cade at Soppong

Fantastic 650 kilometer-long motorbike trail through the mountains of Chiang Mai – Pai – Mae Hong Son – Mae Sariang – Doi Inthanon National Park – Chiang Mai.

Hotels in Pai

Pai is one of Thailand’s backpacking hotspots. Life here is cheap, and the area is gorgeous. We should know, we lived there for over six months. Pai has a special place in our hearts; we love it. We made a list of our 10 favorite accommodations. Have an amazing stay!

Pai Cat Hut Hostel

1. Pai Cat Hut

Central location Nice garden Friendly staff

$ – Basic, but very cheap, accommodation in central Pai. One of the side streets leads to a grassy field with nice bamboo bungalows. Really nice place with kind people who really know how to look out for their guests.

Pai Country Hut

2. Pai Country Hut

Quiet location Bungalows with hammocks Cheap and clean

$ – Pai Country Hut is a lovely, peaceful place and only three minutes away from Walking Street. Its bungalows, made of bamboo, are well-kept and scattered across three grassy fields. The atmosphere is very laid-back. This is our favorite accommodation in Pai!

Medio de Pai Hotel

3. Medio de Pai

In the center Swimming pool Family rooms

$$ – Excellent rooms equipped with air conditioning and a nice swimming pool right out front. But the best part about Medio de Pai is its location: right in the center, on a street parallel to the Walking Street. It also has some spacious, and affordable, family rooms. Highly recommended!

Family House Pai Resort

4. Family House Resort

Along the Pai river  Nice atmosphere Swimming pool

$$ – The Family House Resort is located along the Pai River. It’s a nice, small-scale resort within walking distance of the center. Breakfast is served on a terrace on the river. Lovely in the sun!

Spicypai Backpackers Hostel Pai

5. Spicy Pai Backpackers

Backpacking hotspot Hammocks Just outside city center

$ – The number one backpacking hotspot! You’ll be sleeping in a bamboo dormitory (no air conditioning!) with a view of a rice field, just outside the center of town and almost across the street from Don’t Cry – a popular bar, opened until the early hours of the morning.

Pai Hostel Circus School

6. Pai Circus School

Swimming pool Party-Party The view

$ – The Circus School is probably the most famous (and infamous!) accommodation in Pai among backpackers. Only stay here if you’re looking to party, as here it never seems to stop. View and swimming pool are amazing, especially for the price.

Pai Klang Nga Bungalows

7. Pai Klangna Cottages

Among rice fields Authentic bungalows Friendly staff

$$ – The Pai Klangna Cottage is everything you would expect from a hotel in Pai. You’ll be sleeping in a bungalow amid the rice fields and the green mountains that surround them. Though located just outside of the town center, the hotel has a (free) shuttle service.

Jungle Hideaway Pai

8. Jungle Hide Away

Complete house Jungle vibe Beautiful garden

$$ – Complete house Jungle feeling Beautiful garden
If you’re planning to stay in Pai a little longer, then this house is just perfect; it comes with a balcony, bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, terrace and a very green garden. George the owner is always ready to help.

You can book your stay at The Jungle Hide Away via Airbnb. Not yet a member of Airbnb? Then click here for $ 38 off your first booking!

Puri Pai Villa Resort

9. Puri Pai Villa

Amazing views Luxurious villas Swimming pool

$$ – Puri Pai is a luxury resort with rooms with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and Pai’s rice fields. Stay in your own villa with a swimming pool and hammock. You won’t regret this!

Reverie Siam Pai Resort

10. Reverie Siam

Very good restaurant Luxurious suites Surroundings

$$$ – Reverie Siam is the cream of the crop in Pai. Its restaurant is outstanding and the suites are stunning; some of them lie directly beside one of the large swimming pools. The resort looks out over Pai’s green hills.

Restaurants in Pai

Pai is where you go to enjoy nature, the tranquility, and the surprisingly laid-back atmosphere. But, with its large number of trendy restaurants, it’s also a great place to go for excellent food. Especially for you, we listed all of Pai’s best restaurants (in alphabetical order). Aroi mak-mak!

1. Boomelicious Cafe

Soi One Corner Plaza, on the corner of the Walking Street, Pai
Welcome to breakfast heaven! Here you can have egg, toasted sourdough bread, (ice) coffee, salmon, beans, potato pancakes and much, much more.

2. Cafecito

258 Moo 8 Vieng Tai, Pai
Not only does this Mexican restaurant serve the most amazing burritos and quesadillas, you can also enjoy a lovely cup of coffee with a homemade cake.

3. Charlie & Lek Health Restaurant

Th Rangsiyanon, toward the morning market
One of our favorite spots in Pai for a Thai dinner, Charlie & Lek’s food is super fresh and ready in no-time. Also… so cheap!

4. Duang Restaurant

5 Moo 3 Rangsiyanon Rd, off Walking Street, Pai
Duang Restaurant is run by Thai people who are deaf or hard of hearing but know their way around the kitchen. For a mere 40 baht, they’ll serve you a piping hot Khao Soi (yellow curry with fried noodles).

5. Earth Tone

81, Rural Rd Mae Hong Son, opposite the White Buddha
This small restaurant is an absolute must for vegetarians and vegans. Meals served here are super healthy and made with lots of unique ingredients.

6. Fat Cat

18 Moo 1, Ban Mae Yen, on the road to the White Buddha
This small, cute restaurant serves its food outside, in its vegetable garden, where you’ll be seated on lounge cushions. Nearly everything is organic and comes from their garden. Yum!

7. Land Split

Chang Wat, Thung Yao toward the Pam Bok Waterfall
On the way to the Pam Bok waterfall, you’ll come across the Land Split whose friendly owner will welcome you with some local snacks and drinks. All the food and drinks here are completely free, so don’t forget to leave a small donation when you leave!

8. Lemon Thyme Cafe

Tedsaban1 Rd. Amphoe Pai
This cute little café, modeled on similar ones in Paris, is run by two brothers who, again and again, manage to serve the most amazing breakfasts, lunches, and coffees.

9. Maya Burger Queen

63/1 Moo 3, Raddamrong
Want a break from Thai and fancy something greasy? Then go to Maya Burger Queen and have a double cheeseburger with some excellent fries and garlic mayonnaise.

10. Na’s Kitchen

At the bottom of Raddamrong Road near the traffic lights
Na turned her house into a restaurant, which means you can enjoy a lovely Thai meal on her front porch. Before you know it, there won’t be any space left on your table!

11. Om Garden Cafe

60/4 Vieng Tai, Amphoe Pai
This is Pai’s number one breakfast hotspot. Pick a nice spot in the beautiful garden, make yourself comfortable and enjoy a fresh and healthy organic meal. Everything here is homemade and prepared with the greatest care and attention.

12. Plernpai Vegetarian Cafe

106/1 Moo 1, Mae Hee Subdistrict, Pai
Vegetarian or not, the food at this café/hotel is HEAVENLY. The best Mexican bowls, fresh spring rolls, breakfasts and fruit shakes are served here!

13. Silhouette by Reverie Siam

Wiang Tai, Pai
Feel like dining in style? Then pull up a chair at Silhouette, an outstanding Mediterranean restaurant, where you can do just that. The tapas are amazing!

Transport in Pai

From Chiang Mai

To get to Pai, you’ll need to travel via Chiang Mai. The most common way to do this is by minivan.

Minivan

  • Travel time: 3 hours
  • Cost: ฿ 150 pp

Publicly owned Prem Pracha’s minivans leave from Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station throughout the day. They’re air-conditioned and seat 13 in total. It is possible to make a reservation (a seat at the front is advisable). The ride will take about 3 hours, which includes a short stop halfway. Tickets are approximately 150 baht per person and available online and at the station.

We recommend booking a return ticket online. The vans don’t seat many and therefore tend to sell out quickly. It will also save you some time!

Local bus

  • Travel time: 4 hours
  • Cost: ฿ 80 pp

Besides the minivans, there’s an intercity bus that leaves Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station once a day. This bus is old and slow – the ride will take about 4 hours, which includes a short stop. It’s especially popular among locals and sometimes becomes so full that the only place to sit is the floor. There’s no toilet or air conditioning on board. Tickets are about 80 baht per person and available at the bus station.

Motorbike

  • Travel time: 4-5 hours
  • Cost: ฿ 350 pp

Getting from Chiang Mai to Pai by motorbike is very popular. The road is in good condition, signage is clear (there’s only one road that leads to Pai), and along the way, you’ll pass small villages, national parks, and mountain viewpoints. It will take about 4-5 hours, depending on how well you ride a motorbike and the number of stops you make.

We only recommend doing this if you’re an experienced rider and the weather is dry. During the rainy season (July to October) roads are slippery and have been known to flood. Renting a motorbike to go from Chiang Mai to Pai is ± 300-400 baht per motorbike per day.

We recommend booking a return ticket online. The vans don’t seat many and therefore tend to sell out quickly. It will also save you some time!

Taxi

  • Travel time: 3 hours
  • Cost: ฿ 1,000

A private taxi ride from Chiang Mai to Pai is ± 3,000 baht.

Getting around

Motorbike

There’s no getting around the fact that a motorbike is the best way to explore Pai’s surrounding area. The roads are in good condition, and there’s barely any traffic, which makes it ideal for the more inexperienced motorbike riders. Rent is 100-250 baht per 24 hours.

Bike

If you don’t feel comfortable riding a motorbike, a bicycle or a mountain bike could be a good alternative. You can rent them on the Walking Street for 50-100 baht per day. Be prepared though, getting across certain mountain slopes is hard work!

Taxi

There aren’t that many taxis in Pai, so it’s not possible to flag them down along the road. It is possible, however, to book a taxi on the Walking Street. Prices are steep for northern Thailand; an hour’s ride (depending on your bartering skills) could easily set you back as much as a couple of hundred baht.

Weather in Pai

The best time to visit Pai is during the cool season from November – February.

November – February

The cool season is the best time to be in Pai. It’s when there’s very little rain, nature is vibrant and green, the waterfalls are well-filled, and at night the weather is nice and cool (sometimes even cold).

March – April

During the hot season temperatures regularly reach 40 °C, making it the least pleasant time to visit Pai. Not just because of the high temperatures, but also because of the persistent smog hanging over the valley.

May – October

The rainy season brings with it some much-needed colder weather in the form of rain, which usually falls in the late afternoon in tropical downpours. Advantage: it’s quiet, and it’s cheap!

Map of Pai

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